08 March 2015
This past week, we lost a dear sweet family friend. Perl Tipper passed away Wednesday, 4 March. She was probably the last of my parents friends from the old days when they all worked together in Kopperston, West Virginia. Perl was a best friend to both my mother and father and they all worked together in the "company store". They knew her before she met the man she would marry and go onto raise six kids; one of those kids lives right here in Wilmington, North Carolina and is also a good friend - Christy Register. Perl came down several times a year to visit Christy and her family and we always looked forward to it because it meant Perl would visit us, too.
How to describe Perl - well, she was simply one of the most spry, engaging and witty women I've ever met in my life. My own history of "knowing" Perl is brief compared to my parents relationship with her, but oh how much better my life is for meeting her and tapping into her sparkling personality.
She was tiny, extremely creative and talented and behaved much younger than her 92 years. I loved her hugs. Our last visit with her was this past June and I made a bit of a party out of it, fetching Smithfields chicken and lots of coffee and iced tea. I sat on the patio after serving these three crazy "kids" and smiled as I listened to the reminiscing, the sharing of memories and the genuine laughter that wafted through the house. It was always a special time when Perl was in the house and I loved how these three good friends had renewed their connections through the 70 plus years they had known and loved each other.
When Perl visited us this past June, she asked me several times for a photograph and I didn't really understand why. In fact, when I didn't produce it, she had her daughter Christy text me to please send her a photo. I sent a snapshot that was taken at my daughter and son in law's rehearsal dinner in NYC. I didn't think much more about it. A few days later when Perl came over to join my parents for dinner, she presented me with a portrait she had painted - I was stunned. I had no inkling that this was why she wanted the photo. It turns out that as she was spending a couple of weeks visiting Christy, she wasn't one to sit idly by doing nothing - so she painted me! I can't tell you how precious this portrait is to me - how much I cherish it.
I served my parents coffee this "morning" and by morning I mean 12:30 PM - since the time moved forward an hour overnight I knew they'd be extra late waking up. The sunshine was warm and I took my mother's hand and lead her out to the patio table where I had her coffee waiting. The sky was crystal blue and the trees look as if they are budding right before our eyes. Mom smiled in the warm sunshine and then looked at me and said, "Did you know my friend Perl? She died...". Over the course of the hour that we sat outside in the sunshine, my mother said this to me at least fifteen times. "Yes Mom, I know. We're going to miss her aren't we?".
"She was my best friend. I knew her before she was married. We used to have so much fun working together."
I patted her hand and I tried to imagine what a huge loss this was to my parents because, quite frankly, she was one of the last of their old friends still alive. It must be deeply painful.
Last night as I was getting ready to make a speedy run for Food Lion, I overheard my Mom and Dad chatting in their room. "Barbe, what are we going to do about Christmas this year? I want to go home."
After repeating her question enough times that he actually heard it, he said, "Well, honey, I'll let you know in December - that's ten months away."
"I want to go home."
There was nothing I could pop in and say. I just listened. My mother's thoughts are scattered and she's not got a firm grasp of seasons or time, but it broke my heart. Right now I'm glad her attention span is brief and her thoughts are fleeting. It would be too sad to imagine otherwise. Everything she knew and all of the things she could do are long gone. Sometimes I wonder how they can possibly deal with it on those rare occasions of clarity.
Perl visited us a week before Christmas 2013 and again, I served dinner for these three close friends. As I was getting ready to lay out the food I noticed they were all holding hands and my Dad was about to say grace, but what I noticed even more was that they continued to hold hands for several minutes after the prayer.
Holding hands seems to be the very best way to get through these later years. In fact, when the Star News did a story on adult children taking care of aging parents in January 2014, this photo was on the front page of the Sunday Newspaper that day. It's so emblematic of their relationship.
My parents have always been warm, demonstrative people who never shied away from hugs and they've turned hand-holding into a natural part of their daily routine. I do the best that I can to make sure they are well fed, meds are dispensed as prescribed and I get their television back on several times a day because my mother LOVES to push buttons on the remote which frequently results in a blank screen. However, the most potent and essential secret to growing old, from my "up close and personal" vantage point, seems to be hand holding several times a day. There are so many lessons I learn, but this simple act of reaching out and holding onto each other is the most powerful mood elevator imaginable. Advil eases the arthritic pain, Lisinopril keeps the blood pressure stable and a small 50 mg dose of Zoloft may do something to stabilize the mood, but from where I stand, holding hands is powerful, preciously addictive and induces peace. The side effects of this act are quite amazing. I can't recommend it enough.
"Do you know my friend Perl Tipper?"
"Yes Mom, and we're all going to miss her so very much."
Godspeed Perl - thank you for sharing your life, your infectious laugh and your talent with us. We will always smile as we remember you with love and great affection. We will "cry because it's over, but we're all certainly smiling because YOU happened.